The Americus Savage diary was published in 1996 in "A Genealogical History of Freeman, Maine 1796-1938" Vol 3 p. 359-369. The three volume set of books was compiled by George A. Thompson and F. Janet Thompson and are available through Heritage Books, Inc.
The original diary is in the possession of descendants of Mrs. Vivian Santerre of Saco, Maine. Savage Family Researcher, Tim Daugherty, was kind enough to bring the journal to my attention. Permission has been granted by the family to share the journal.
"If I should attempt to give a full history of all the privations, hardships, and dangers we passed through while crossing the American Continent, it would fill a volume. I will give a short history of some of our narrow escapes from floods and hostile Indians. We met with no serious obstacles until we crossed the Missouri River on the 11th day of May 1851."
12 May 1851 "On the 12th day in the morning I was elected Captain of the company. We had not traveled more than 10 miles when we were stopped by the Pawnee Indians, at a little muddy creek and demanded to pay tolls for crossing a log bridge which they claimed they had built. We knew they were lying to us but for peace with them we gave them a piece of money for each wagon. They had their blankets spread in the road in front of the teams and we were ordered to throw our money on them. When they were satisfied all had paid, they gathered up the money, and then came out with their sacks and wanted flour, sugar, etc. as toll for traveling through their country. I told the company we were going beyond the reach of supplies and the lives of our families depended on what we had, and let every man defend it as he would their lives, every man to take his rifle. I took their blankets and threw them into the bushes. The Indians drew their bows, gave a faint whoop, when I saw hundreds of heads pop out from among the bushes, and every piece of concealment, I brought my rifle to ready aim in front of the Indian that held his bow in his hand. He immediately concealed it under his blanket and sneaked off and when the Indians saw the men coming out with their rifles they sneaked out of sight like a lot of young pheasants, not a sign of one could be seen. We drove on to within five miles of Elkhorn River and camped."
13 May 1851 " On the 13th we drove 5 miles to Elkhorn. We found a great many delayed here, the water covered the whole country for miles and the ferryman (Fontenell) would not ferry anyone across until the water fell. Here we stayed until June 4th. In this time we had some of our cattle poisoned by eating a poison weed. We cured nearly all of them by giving them fat bacon. We built a ferry boat and ferried our cattle and wagons onto an island. The rain poured down in torrents all day. We slept in our wagons expecting to start in the morning on our journey and left the dreadful place of thunder, lightening and rain. There was a continual blast of lightening and thunder, peal after peal, that made the earth tremble, while the rain fell as though the doors of heaven were broke loose from their hinges. No one raised west of the Rocky Mountains can have any idea of a thunder storm on the Elkhorn on Platt River."
24 May 1851 "While we were trying to rest our weary bodies cooped up in our wagons, preparing for our task the next day, I heard a hideous, mournful shout, like it might have been from the lowest repulchers of the dead and doomed in these words, `We are all lost, we are all lost'. I rushed out of my wagon to see what it all meant. I jumped into the water that was about to my forward wagon's hubs and there stood an old Mormon by the name of Ames crying at the top of his voice `We are all lost'. I told him to keep still as he would scare the women and children. There was danger, yet, I saw the water risen about four feet in a few hours, the entire island was under water and it was still rising. The driftwood lodging against our wagons, our cattle standing in the water to their bellies, shaking their heads and moaning as though they understood the awful situation. The lightening gave us our light to guide us. I selected four of the stoutest and heaviest young men to get the boat and haul it up to the wagons, the side we came from above high water. After making several trips we were all safely landed with a few tents and quilts, ankle deep in the mud without fire or light, only lightening. I finally succeeded in stretching my tent, spread a quilt on the cold muddy earth and lay my little children on it to sleep. Mary, where was my dear Mary all this time? She was lending a willing and helping hand giving an encouraging word to everyone around her never complaining or finding fault with anyone, and when morning came she crouched down by the side of her little children. I shall never forget my feelings at the sight. This was the night of the 24th and 25th of May. About an hour after we were all crossed back our cattle plunged into the swift current and began circling around and going downstream at the rate of 10 knots an hour. All we could see was their horns when it lightened. We could hear them moan. It was a sorrowful sight. No one expected to ever see half of the cattle alive again, but fortune favored us. We recovered all our stock."
03 Jun 1851 "...Two men were killed by lightening, one drowned and one accidentally shot in the companies while we were there and on the third of June after the water had fallen so that we made another start. We found we had to ferry a creek about a mile from the river and haul our wagons nearly the whole distance through water up to the wagon beds, and in that distance were found several places of swimming water on a straight line from one island to another. I had found this out by fording it and following around the deep places and had stuck three stakes at the heads of these bayous. Our wagons were so hampered in the mud that when we ferried and run them out of the boat that we had to hitch on to them as they were. A man by the name of Forin had his wagon on the lead, and my team was the first ferried. He took my team for his wagon, we then ferried his team and I took it for my wagon. He sent three young men. I gave them the necessary instructions about keeping above the stakes to keep out of danger. They started out while I was getting a team to my wagon and had nearly crossed to the other island when I started. The wind blew down the stream, caused quite a wave in the water, so the cattle had to hold up their heads to keep their noses above water, and I found it difficult to keep my team braced against the wind and current enough to come in above the stakes. I saw the young men had gone through, all safe and unloaded and started back for one could only haul half our loads at a trip. The muck and water were so hard to haul through. I saw them taking a straight line back regardless of any warnings to them. I tried to turn them by such signs as I could, but to no effect. I was by this time at the head of the last buoy. I stopped my team just as they went into it, about a quarter below me. The oxen circled around in order to get back where they came in, but they came around by the side of the wagon and sank out of sight. I could see only the wagon cover under water. Mary sat in the wagon calm and cool looking on. `Well, Mary', says I, `our team is gone. This is a bad place to be shipwrecked in, but I hope the boys will get out.'"
"Says she, `Let's hope for the best, the worst comes fast enough. Can we render any assistance?' `No, it is not in my power, only to wait. It may be when they see this team they will swim to it. It is their nearest way to get on fordable ground.'
"I soon saw two of the men on the oxen's backs and they swam towards me, until they could ford it, them came to where I was. Powell and Lake were the names of the two who came out with the oxen. I inquired for Montgomery. They said when they went into the water he told them if they couldn't swim they were lost. He, being a good swimmer, left them and the last they saw of him he was about a rod from them. They trusted to the oxen and came out, each with a bow in his hands, while Montgomery was drowned."
"I drove on to the island when I saw the wagon had drifted in towards the lower end of the island. I ran down and waded into the water and caught it and towed it to land and made it fast, then spent the rest of the day helping others to get across the terrible places of mud and water."
04 Jun 1851 "On the 4th of June we run our boat out, fished up the running years of our wagon, hooked up Montgomery, buried him, went to the creek, ferried our wagons, swam our cattle, hitched up and drove three miles and camped, rejoicing that so many of us were alive and well. We seemed to take new courage although we knew our time lost had left us behind time. We knew our cattle were fat and left the Elkhorn river, the most of us forever. No one was sorry to get away from that never to be forgotten place. We traveled every day from 15 to 30 miles."
02 Aug 1851 "We met with no serious obstacles to mar our peace and quiet progress until we passed Fort Hall on Snake River, the 2nd day of August. We had now passed through the Souix territory, they were peaceful. We had dispensed with a guard and had a fine time to rest for the Souix chief had told the emigration party they should be protected through his territory, but now we were warned at the fort to keep a strong guard over our lives and property. We camped about four miles from the fort. After supper I called a council of the men and told them what I had learned at the fort, that we were now entering a territory of hostile tribes of Indians. I thought it prudent we should again have our guard and keep a vigilant lookout for our lives and property. Some hooted at the idea, said the proposition was a mark of cowardice, one old man in particular said he could kill all the Indians in the road with his broad sword. I took a vote on the question and the guard was voted down. Those who voted against it were owners of all the horses in the company. I told them I was sorry the guard was not to be organized but that their horses would be the first to be stolen. We passed that night safely. The next day we drove 18 miles and camped on a bluff and turned our stock into Snake River Valley where there was good grass and water. My object in selecting this place was not to be easily surprised by Indians and it was a place easily defended. A few men with rifles could keep off a large band of Indians."
"After we turned out our cattle I shouldered my rifle and concluded I would act as guard and prospect the country. In going down along the bluff, I came to a small bunch of bushes. It looked rather suspicious as though it might be a place for a spy. I entered the thicket, found a fire and place where an Indian had been a short time before. I returned to camp, told them of my discoveries and that the Indians were on the warpath, that their spy would inform them of our numbers which now was but 14 able bodied men, of the number of our horses, cattle and wagons, and again, urged the necessity of a guard. Again it was a failure. We retired to bed but I could not sleep. About the middle of the night I heard the horses stampeding. I called to the owners of the horses and told them the Indians were after their horses, and if they wanted to save them they better get up and go after them and hitch them close to the wagons. Two of the men got up, took their bridles and inquired of me where the horses were. I told them at the foot of the Bluff, when I heard them last. They went down and soon returned with each of them a horse and tied them to their wagons. One man who owned a fine horse rolled over and inquired how the horses were. `All right' was the gruff reply. `False alarm as usual,' said he, rolled over and went to sleep. As soon as the light in the morning I shouldered my rifle and went after the cattle. I found and drove them in towards camp until breakfast was ready. I went in and sat down to my breakfast when someone asked me how the stock was. I told them `all right except the horses, those I have not found.' `Oh well, they are not far off', was the reply."
"As soon as breakfast was over I hurried every one to help drive the stock in, ready for an early start. In a short time our train was ready. Our horse owners, Simon and Nelson, that had each caught a horse the night before, saddled them and started for their horses. While the Dr. Simmons that owned the fine horse took his bridle in his hand and started with them."
"We traveled five or six miles when Simon & Nelson came up at full speed and came to me, said `Captain, you must stop your train and help us get our horses. The Indians have got them. We have found their trail.'"
"I paid no attention to him but kept urging my team along when Simons whined out, `Captain, are you not going to stop and camp?' I turned a square front to him and said, `Mr. Simmons, go and kill your Indians with your broad sword. We are going to Oregon.'"
"He fell in the rear. I heard no more from him until after supper, he came and apologized for what they had done in not listening to me and securing the horses. The Dr. was late getting into camp, bridle in hand, tired & cross. The first words that met his ears were `False alarm as usual.' That evening the vote was unanimous for the guard." 18 Aug 1851 "We traveled on down Smoke River without any accident of note until the morning of the 18th when we were aroused from our quiet slumber by a horseman coming from Clarke's Company, behind us about 4 days drive, saying they had been attacked by Indians. Mrs. Clark, a son and daughter were killed, the stock driven off, also 26 horses. He was trying to raise a company to pursue the Indians and get back the stock and horses. We had only two horses in our company and two men volunteered to go and were soon on the way. They raised fifteen volunteers from all the companies and by hard riding overtook the Indians at 12 o'clock the same day. Their horses tired and the men nearly famished for water. In their hurry to start they had taken neither provisions or water with them and at noon found themselves in a desert with the hot August sun pouring down on them without mercy for man or beast, while before them on a hillside they could see the horses grazing quietly, herded by Squaws. They made a charge when close to the hill. The Indians sprang up from behind bush and rock, gave the warhoop and discharged their guns into the little band of volunteers, killing one horse, mortally wounding one man and lodging a bullet in one by the name of Powell, a man from our company. They saw the folly of further effort to recover their horses from the Indians in their chosen strong hold. They therefore retreated. They had gone but a few miles when they were obliged to leave Powell. He was in so much pain, could not be held on his horse, and begged to be left. He crawled into a thicket while the famished riders and horses hurried from the wretched scene. They got water sometime in the night and the next day pursued their journey. No one ever went back to bury the unfortunate man, Powell. The above could at any time have destroyed all the emigrants."
09 Aug 1851 (Sep?) "On the 9th of August we camped on Goose Creek where there were hundreds of acres of grass or wild rye, waist high and dead ripe. I made my camp in the edge of this grass in order to be out of gunshot from the willows on the bank of the stream. When we were unyoking our teams we heard someone shooting off their guns beyond the willows and above us about a quarter of a mile. We first thought there was a company camped there but I soon heard the bark of an Indian dog. I knew then we were in danger of being attacked at any moment. We had only 12 men and the two volunteers not having returned and we had only 5 guns. I had all the guns inspected and a few pistols put in order and sent out two men to herd the cattle and reconnoiter the brush. One of the men soon returned saying he thought he had seen two Indians sulking along in the brush and thought we would all be murdered before morning."
"I told him I was aware of our danger but we had made a long drive that day, our cattle were poor, weak, and hungry. It was 26 miles to another good grass and our only hope was to stay and defend ourselves where we were. I told him to drive in the cattle before dark and we would herd them near the wagons. The women got supper while every man was on guard around the camp. The cattle were driven in and soon lay down being tired and footsore. They had no disposition to ramble off after getting a good bait of grass they were glad to rest. I put two men on guard, the night was dark, our fires all extinguished and we lay down to rest, but I could not sleep. I heard the guard call those who were to take their places at 12 o'clock. I soon heard the guard cry `fire, fire'. I saw at a glance the cause of the alarm. The Indians had set the grass on fire by one of their number taking a bundle of dry grass on fire, and running with it through the dry grass to the windward of us setting the grass on fire for 25 or 30 rods. The wind was blowing a stiff breeze at the time. Everyone was on their feet in an instant. Saw our situartion. I ordered every man to form a line facing the brush. I them ordered them to lay close to the ground while two who volunteered to go with me and put out the fire."
"Simons and Bronsil, they said `Well, Captain, what shall we put the fire out with?' I said, `Take your gun in one hand, and spade in the other and follow me.' I started on a run with them at my heels. When we came to the fire we swept it out with such velocity with our spades that in thirty or forty minutes I was nearly victorious. When I saw the tall grass parting at my left, I raised my rifle ready to shoot an Indian as I supposed, when what was my surprise to hear Bronsil cry out `don't shoot'. After he started with me, he and Simons both sulked back to the wagons and Bronsil had armed himself with sword and pistol in addition to spade and rifle and came crawling through the grass. I told him he was a coward and finished putting out the fire with the sweat dripping from me. I went back to the camp. There I found Simons hid behind the wagons. `Well, Captain,' he said, `I was afraid the Indians would attack the camp and I came back to keep the camp from being thrown into confusion.'"
" `Yes,' I said, `I believe you are the man who wanted to yoke the oxen and move out of here while Bronsil and I were a target down there by the brush of Indians. The moment we shouldered our yokes and laid down our arms we should have been attacked by Indians. The war-hoop would have been sounded and twenty minutes would have been all the time they would have wanted to dispatch every living soul in our train.' "
" `What' said he, `Indians in the brush?' `Yes, sir' I said, `Watching every move we make.' I then went to those who lay on the ground to see if they had seen any Indians. `No, but the way the brush is crackling it is full of them.' They saw we meant to fight was all that saved us from destruction. We listened until we were satisfied they were getting away from there and then told the men to rest until the first appearance of daylight. The guard was to call and every man must be ready to act, wide awake, gun in hand, for if the Indians found us napping they would take our scalps. When I went to our wagon I found Mary sitting in the front part of the wagon with an old dull axe in her hand watching over the little children. She had piled all the trumpery in the wagon as a fortification, and got the children up out of their little tent and stowed them in the center of the wagon and mounted guard over them, determined to smack the first Indian who dared interfere with her little ones. She never found fault or whined like the others at the trials and troubles which came to us, always ready at all times to help while others were scolding and finding fault. The above shows the brave braggers (Bronsil & Simons) where he really is in danger cowering and hiding and further shows the danger and hardships of emigrant trains to encounter in crossing the plains in 1851."
"As soon as the light appeared in the East everyone was up and while some were yoking their wagon, others stood with guns in hand, ready for action. We rolled out carrying our guns for several miles."
"When we were several miles from camp we saw about a mile to our left the dust rising from the trail of Indians going in the same direction we were as though they intended to herd us perhaps in some canyon while they could secrete themselves and shoot us down while they were out of danger. And had it not been for the dust marking their course they might have succeeded, but I read their intentions and when about noon we came to a deep ravine we had to pass through, I ordered a halt and to turn the cattle loose and let them feed while we reconnoiter in order to keep from being ambushed by our enemies. We found several of the cattle dead in the Ravine with arrows sticking in them, one grave with this inscription `This man was killed by Indians August 5th, 1851'. There were fresh moccasin tracks around."
"Our company was so small we decided to wait where we were until other companies should overtake us. I was happy that night to see two other companies roll in and camp with us. One circumstance that perhaps caused the Indians to pursue us was this--I had been out scouting up Goose Creek one night about sundown when I found a nice large fat ox. I knew the emigration train ahead of me had lost him and perhaps the Indians were then herding him back from the road to kill him themselves. I walked around the ox and drove him back to our camp. In the morning I yoked him up in my team and drove to the ravine as above related. We made our camp in the ravine by the willows turning our stock up the ravine, keeping a guard in advance of the stock at bottom of the bluff until time to drive in towards camp. Willows grew along each side and across the little valley in many places, with the high steep bluffs on each side. I was one of the guards over the stock. We took our posts above the stock. I was close to the willows and while on the lookout I heard a dead willow snap. I inquired of my companion if any of the stock had passed. He said, `No, it was the wind broke some dry thing.' I soon forgot the circumstance and being tired and almost sick about the middle of the night concluded I would light my pipe. The night was tremendously dark but I was within hailing distance of my companion and I told him I was going to light my pipe if he thought there was no danger. He said, `Go ahead', there is no Indian near here.' I scraped together a few leaves, dry grass and sticks and then lighted a match and lit my tiny fire. I was just taking some fire to light my pipe when I heard the click of a hammer and bursting of a cap not fifty feet from me. I kicked the fire into total darkness and rolled about 10 feet quicker than I ever did before in my life. This I did to change my position, then raised myself ready to shoot. I thought if he tried another cap in his old musket I would shoot at the blaze of it. My companion asked where the cap burst. I told him. He said he knew it was in the willows and that the cursed Indian was mad because we had that ox and wanted to shoot a man in revenge for it. `Well, I gave him a good change,' I said. `Yes,' said he, `If his old musket had not missed fire he would have had a dead shot on you sure.' "
"I proposed we lay low until daylight. We were from a quarter to half a mile from camp but there were several who heard the report of the cap bursting."
"While we were yoking our oxen in the morning a Mrs. Hall said, `Look yonder.' We looked and there on the bluff stood an Indian looking at us. He instantly dropped on his hands and knees and went hopping off like a Kioter which we should have certainly thought it to be if we had not seen him standing first. The above shows the stratagems of the cunning (or devilish) Indians."
"We traveled then in larger companies which made it easier for our guard and safer for our families and stock. We met with nothing interesting to an emigrant train only sometimes a little better grass and good water. I forded every stream by the side of my cattle from Long Fork to Oregon." "I was the first to cross Green River in 1851 by driving through it. A Mormon by the name of Jack Robinson was running the ferryboats but when he saw I had led my company successfully through he sunk his boats and went back to Salt Lake City. One little incident I will now relate."
18 Sep 1851 "While crossing the Deschutes River not far above when it empties into the Columbia the current was very swift and water so deep we blocked up our wagon beds about six inches to raise them above the water. As I was always put ahead in every bad place I took the lead without any guide only to judge by the ripple of water as best I could. When about half way across I discovered I was too low down, that the rock was sliding and slippery. I gave my whip a whirl to hit the off ox to make him brace up against the current. My lash flew off the stock and went severl feet up the stream. I watched it as it came floating down, caught it when it came near enough in my left hand when my feet flew out from under me. I passed between and under my near tongue oxen, caught the chain of the next yoke of oxen. I managed to get hold of the near ox's bos and pulled myself up by his side until I could get a foot-hold. I then forded by their side until I could get the near ox's bow of the leader when I pulled them around to a safe floating, then turned to Mary and told her to take the tent pole and `Punch Old Buck', the off tongue ox. She seized the pole and Old Buck soon felt the effects of it. I then spoke to my team and then we once more rolled out on terra firma."
"Although I was thoroughly wet with the cold water of the Deshutes yet there I stood with the sweat pouring from my body. Who can tell the power of the mond over the body or who can describe the feelings of a man in such a place in the middle of a stream with the water dashing against the wagon bed in which are cooped up wife and children. All he lives for or loves, within a few feet of inevitable destruction, expecting the first move I made that the wheels would go over the sliding rock, dragging the team with it beyond the hope of rescue. No tongue can tell or pen describe my feelings for a few moments there, and make it worse if possible I could not swim and had I not caught the chain I should not be here to write this down. I mentioned to the other teams to keep above the ripple and they crossed all right."
"This was on the 18th of September and the Deschutes was swollen by recent rains so that in a few days it was past fording. I said nothing to Mary or the children of the danger we passed through at that time. She appeared to feel perfectly safe, where I was, always. While other women, afraid to trust themselves with their own people, often would get into any wagon when there were dangerous places to pass."
"The companies soon divided, some going the Barlow Route across the mountains while others went down the Columbia River. I took the latter course on account of the situation of my family. One of my oxen was very poor and lame, the others poor and weak. I had no time to lose. We that came by water landed at the Dalles that 22 day of September. I paid $30 from Dalles to Cascade Falls in a yawl boat and pulled the oars all the way, blistered my hands terribly. I paid $6 for portage of my freight across and $35 from there in an open boat to where we landed at the mouth of the big Sandy on September 29th. I had sent my cattle down the trail which was represented by those who drove them as being a rough and dangerous trail. They were from the 29th of September to the 6th of October making the trip."
06 Oct 1851 " On the sixth of October about 11 o'clock Mary gave birth to a son. It was raining hard, everything was drenched with the cold rain. I covered the wagon with quilts and warmed it with pans of live coals and made everything as comfortable for two days as possible and in that time moved six miles to a house we had rented and would have got into sooner had my cattle come as had expected. In a few days Mary was up full of courage and ambition, ready to take charge of the children while I went out to work. I found myself in a new country with new prospects, in my prime with a stout heart, and a willing mind ready to do all I could for the welfare of my little family and my Mary. I had nothing left but one yoke of oxen. I had to sell two yoke to pay our passage down the river and other debts."
"I worked digging potatoes, and making shingles until October 30th. I hitched up, drove to Clackamas River, landed there at three o'clock, moved into an old house, then got to work making shingles until I got provisions for the family and fifteen dollars in my pocket. I then made one pair of shoes, took my axe, started up the valley to select a place and build me a cabin to move into. My dress at that time consisted of a pair of shoes, a pair of trousers, a frock and one checkered shirt. I traveled about forty miles to the Waldo Hills, drove my oxen to good grass. I did not like any of the country. I went through and returned to Clackamas. I left my oxen with a man by the name of Bridges. I was offered good wages to work in a sawmill in Portland. I concluded to work until I got money enough to leave the country but I met a man by the name of Dukes. He told me there was a good country about eighty miles south in the Willamette Valley. I was heartily tired of traveling but concluded to see that valley before I made a permanent stop. On November 23rd I again started in search of a home. I traveled for 12 days through the tallest grass raining nearly all the time. I could see no abject for a guide."
"I finally selected a place on the Calapooia about 12 miles south of Albany. I built me a cabin, walked back, taking my oxen with me, again hitched up and started up the valley with Mary and the family through the rain and mud and sometimes snow for five days when we finally landed at our little cabin home, with a puncheon floor, a dirt fireplace, on the 25th day of December in 1851."
"That day we took our dinner sitting around a box for a table and all sitting on the floor. It was the second happiest day of my life, the anniversary of our wedding day."
"I shall never forget the looks of five pairs of bright eyes when I told them we would now stop traveling, I hoped as long as I lived. I believed we were in good country and I was satisfied."
"The above shows some of the trials and hardships of a journey to and settlement in a new country. How easy it is for a man to change his course and go another way, how contented and happy one might be, where another would be discontented and miserable. So ends the story of my journey to Oregon."
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